Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell is touting a new state budget featuring $1.1 million in additional spending with no taxing increase.Rendell reviewed the 2008-09 budget with journalists in a teleconference Sept. 10.

Rendell said more than 30 percent of the new budget increase passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in July is devoted to education.

The 2008-09 General Fund budget is $28.3 billion, $72.4 million less than the Governor's proposed budget. Nearly $9.7 billion in total funding is reserved for basic education. The funding concentrates on closing the "adequacy gap" noted in the November 2007 report on adequate school funding.

Other projects in education include $271.4 million for proven educational programs, including pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten; an additional $86.4 million for pre-kindergarten, benefiting children; $14.5 million toward science programs; $10.9 million in transforming Pennsylvania high schools' academic programs, called Project 720; $10 million to help students earn college credit; $45 million to continue developing Classrooms for the Future; more than $2 billion for higher education programs; and $1.03 billion for special education programs, a $16.8 million increase.

In the teleconference, Rendell also emphasized other issues including better health care coverage, energy costs, alternative energy and state redevelopment aid.

Health Care

On health care, Rendell proposed the state will seek funding levels necessary to purchase Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care, a private sector health insurance package.

While not in the budget, Rendell is looking toward the future to affect health care.

"It's very important that we have a significantly better health care program," Rendell added.

The new insurance would be available to eligible small businesses and low and moderate-income individuals and builds upon the health insurance proposals Rendell said were part of his Prescription for Pennsylvania health care reform plan.

In the budget, the Prescription for Pennsylvania program provides $20.9 million in state and federal funds to implement a series of initiatives improving coordination and quality of health care services.

Rendell said state surpluses achieved during his first term as governor would be used to assist Pennsylvanian's with existing conditions seeking quality health care coverage.

"We're going to try and make some improvements," he said.

Increasing Energy Costs

Turning his attention to a looming expiration of state energy caps scheduled for December 2009, Rendell said he had urged legislators to phase in hikes from electricity providers like PPL Utilities and PECO Energy also touting House Bill 2200.

The bill provides cost-effective opportunities to reduce energy use and demand, saving Pennsylvanians money and possibly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Rendell said he will also propose creating smart meters to regulate energy usage therefore reducing peak demand.

"Rates will go up 20 to 60 percent in one year unless we do something about it," Rendell said. "Once the caps are released, we will have a $4 billion increase in what Pennsylvania pays for electricity. We cannot let that happen."

Rendell said Pennsylvanians would not want electricity payments to increase with the rising costs of gas and other commodities.

Alternative Energy Sources

An Energy Independence Strategy would invest $650 million to help Pennsylvania companies and consumers lower their energy costs and reduce dependency on foreign oil, Rendell said.

"I think the more we do with renewable energies and the more prevalent they become, the price will go down," Rendell said. "I think the more renewable energy we can put in the market place, the lower prices they become."

Although PECO Energy charges a premium for alternative wind energy currently, Rendell predicts costs will most likely go down following growth in the popularity of wind power.

Sustainable Development

Though no plans are set for the fall of 2008, Rendell said he would try to implement sustainable development plans and said state officials are still considering incentives to encourage greater use of mass transit.

Contact editor Matthew Reichl at 610-367-6041, ext. 240 or mreichl@berksmontnews.com.

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